What’s in a Name?
A “Trans” Kid Named Rose is Still a Rose
A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away, in the fall of 2019, I had some close friends tell me that their daughter had announced that she was non-binary and had decided to name herself – pardon – theirself “Phoenix.”
Like any good friend, I smiled and said “Great! Great name! Sounds good!” Because that is the only proper response to the announcement of a name.
I know this because I am a grown-up, and because I have seen people make lots of mistakes about names now, and I’m mature enough to know that any comment or opinion I state will not make a whit of difference. It won’t. But, just to let you all know, here are the common naming mistakes:
Mistake #1: Choosing an overly-popular name. I’ve lived long enough to see the Noras roll over the Britneys who pushed out the Emilys who edged out the Jessicas. I once dated four guys named “Andrew” in a row. Trends come and go. Certain names float to the most popular spot for a few years and then start to decline. That’s okay. People are susceptible to fads in all their behaviors. These kids will go by their full names or nicknames at school.
Mistake #2: Choosing an overly-obscure name. This can happen when people reach deep into family names. My own dear parents (born in the U.S. in the 1930s) were cursed with old-world European names that were both difficult to spell and difficult to pronounce (initially) for their peers. They were mis-addressed by strangers and acquaintances throughout their lives.
Mistake #3: Choosing a name with a strong cultural connotation that isn’t your own. Here’s the truth: names like Patrick, Aryun, Elsa, Rebecca, DeShawn, Mahmood, and Jose come with a rich association with particular cultures, religions, or ethnicities. We can make some fair assumptions about the background of Ari Fleischer vs. Kelly Anne Conway. If you name your white son Barack because you liked president Obama, you are setting your child up for some awkward moments in life.
Mistake #4: Unknowingly choosing a name with a deeper meaning. There are lots of kids named “Magnus” “Prince” “Christian” and “Lily” in the world. I’ve got to believe those parents understood what they were doing. When I see a Sophia or a Brooklyn or a Soren, I start to wonder. Desdemona? I’ve only met one in my life – and she wasn’t very happy.
So parents make name mistakes. I’ve seen it happen – and I’ve even seen parents re-name their kids within the first year. But the difference here is that parents do deeply consider a name for their child – often for months. With lots of research, time, discussion, and consideration. We choose names that are aspirational or tie our child to our family. We choose names that reference famous people or qualities we admire. We choose names that are just right – big enough to grow into and make your own.
Since 2019, I’ve seen numerous kids choose to re-name themselves. It’s about once a week at our school this fall. It’s Stage 2 of the conversion process for teens who are joining the Church of the Non-Binary or Trans. (Stage 1 is renunciation of your previous life.) Here are the elder-approved names: Phoenix, Rainbow, Alex, Jazz, Storm, Zander, Echo, Ash/Aspen, Ocean, Blue, River, and Sam.
My son is one of the kids that started down this conversion path, so I speak of all this with first-hand experience.
Here’s what the initiates think their name means: “I’m independent and rebellious and you can’t define me!”
Here’s what their name actually means: “I’m a struggling teenager with low self-esteem and identity issues and I want to broadcast that to the entire world!”
So here’s how I respond: “Sounds great! Makes me think of that Shakespeare line ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ Do you know it?” And then I smile and retreat....